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Wells Fargo FiNet loses team seeking more independence at LPL

LPL Financial grabbed one team from Raymond James’ bank channel and another from Wells Fargo Advisors’ independent broker-dealer in two moves representing more than $550 million in client assets.

Partners Cam Werntz and Clay Hershey of South Carolina-based Harbor Financial Group left Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network for LPL to “try to stay more independent,” Werntz says. The partners operate from Harbor’s headquarters in Charleston, and they also added Benton Montgomery’s Murrells Inlet-based team as the newly enlarged practice jumped from FiNet together.

Wisconsin-based Baraboo State Bank’s Third Oak Investment Services bolted from Raymond James to LPL. The No. 1 IBD's institutional channel grew by some 400 advisors and 100 banks and credit unions year-over-year in the third quarter to more than 2,500 advisors at 800 institutions, LPL says.

LPL unveiled the new teams from FiNet and Raymond James this month. With LPL slated to announce fourth-quarter results at the end of January, William Blair analyst Chris Shutler said in a note that he expects the figures “to look solid” on asset flows and recruited assets.

Werntz cited Wells Fargo’s tarnished reputation, which has taken a hit following the scandal involving fake accounts and multiple investigations into the firm, as a factor in his practice's exit. He also pointed to Wells Fargo’s decision to waive the fees it used to collect on wirehouse teams converting to FiNet, a move that is bringing more wirehouse brokers — and their culture, Werntz says — to FiNet.

“The FiNet channel that we were a part of for 12 years — it just felt like it became a little bit more corporate. You felt more like an employee of Wells Fargo versus an independent business owner,” he says. “I don’t think they had a very clear and concise message for the advisors.”

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Representatives for Wells Fargo and Raymond James declined to comment on the departures of the two teams.

The bank-based Third Oak program offers investment services at four of the eight branches of Baraboo State Bank, which is headquartered in the town of Baraboo, located about an hour northwest of Madison. Pete Welsh, the senior vice president for trust and investments, leads its wealth management program.

Lisa McClyman, Laura Stanek and Jennifer Kinzler are the three other advisors at the bank program, which has about $200 million in client brokerage and advisory assets. Welsh had spent 13 years affiliated with Raymond James before coming to LPL on Dec. 7, according to FINRA BrokerCheck.

“LPL provides a full-service offering that includes the support and technology that will help us be better positioned to serve our clients,” Welsh said in a statement.

Harbor Group changed its affiliation to LPL on Dec. 19, moving to the firm’s corporate RIA. In addition to Werntz, Hershey and Montgomery, the practice includes advisors Rob Williams and Lee Tiller and three support staff. It manages about $360 million in client assets.

Aligning with LPL gave Harbor access to certain products like institutional money market funds and technology like the eMoney Advisor platform, Werntz says. Electronic signature capabilities have also allowed the practice to migrate some 80% of client assets less than a month after the move.

“We will continue to invest in the technology and solutions that make it easier for our advisors to manage their businesses and serve their clients in the ways they believe add the most value,” Rich Steinmeier, LPL’s divisional president for business development, said in a statement. LPL welcomes the new team and looks forward “to supporting their continued growth,” he added.

Shutler, the William Blair analyst, praised LPL’s new affiliation option targeting wirehouse advisors at the firm’s largest hybrid RIA, Private Advisor Group. LPL also provided $49 million in forgiveable loans for incoming advisors in the third quarter, compared to $57 million in the previous six quarters combined, Shutler said in his note.

However, LPL is likely facing greater competition “given all the private equity activity in the space,” he said. Investors also “already incorporate improved recruiting” into their expectations, Shutler said. He’s maintaining William Blair’s “market perform” rating for shares of LPL’s stock.

“We are encouraged by LPL's progress and execution, including continued investment in its technology platform and willingness to become more open architecture,” Shutler said in the note. “We believe there is more upside opportunity than downside risk in the stock in the near term.”

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